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Dunedin is justifiably a popular destination for many overseas visitors touring around the South Island. The heart of the city is The Octagon with its cafes, pubs and restaurants, but also the iconic Edwardian railway station, the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Speights Brewery and the Taieri Gorge Railway are big names here. Lesser known but worth visiting are the southern beaches of St Kilda and St Clair, popular with hardy local surfers.
But if you head east, across the causeway towards Otago Peninsula, a whole new world emerges. Here the road winds around picturesque Macandrew Bay and Company Bay towards the pretty seaside village of Portobello, about half way between Dunedin city and Taiaroa Head. Just follow the distinctively painted bus stop shelters, testiment to the highly creative local community who live here.
Portobello itself is no bigger than a small English village, boasting the local pub, well stocked general store, school and popular cafe. It's easy to stroll from the centrally-located motels to the historic Portobello Hotel which is strategically located overlooking the bay. A delicious pub meal can while away the time as the tide comes and goes. Across the road the 1908 Cafe began it's life as the Wainui Tea Rooms, catering to travellers catching the ferry to Port Chalmers and Dunedin. It has also been the local mortuary and post office before its transformation into the delightful cafe it is today.
As gateway to the scenic and wildlife attractions of the Otago Peninsula, Portobello is just a short drive to the Royal Albatross centre at Taiaroa Head. Here there are excellent information displays about the local wildlife population, including southern fur seals, sea lions, royal albatross and penguin species. The Peninsula is rich in birdlife including spotted shags, little blue penguins, oyster catchers and home to the only mainland nesting colony of the Northern Royal Albatross. For the best views, guided tours are available but there are also a well maintained walkways and viewing platforms. During the cooler winter months, be sure to wear a warm jacket, scarf and beanie hat as well as sunglasses to prevent your eyes tearing from the brisk southerly wind.
Between Portobello and Dunedin is New Zealand's only genuine castle, Larnach Castle. Set in manicured grounds with spectacular views across Otago Harbour, a self guided tour of the residence's rooms vividly portrays the life and times of the early settler days. During my recent visit on a cold wintry day, morning refreshments of freshly baked scones, home made jam and hot tea by the warmth of the roaring fire in the ballroom was very welcome!
Another highlight of Portobello is the Happy Hens gallery where colourful, collectable pottery hens are individually hand painted in distinctive patterns that reflect the early days when pioneering women kept hens in their kitchen gardens for their decorative value as well as their eggs! A visit here will make you smile!
So, if you are contemplating a visit to Dunedin to explore the historic, wildlife and creative highlights, staying in Portobello will provide a uniquely different and gentle view of life on the peninsula.